It’s funny how, especially with pitchers, you can see two players, both of whom are clearly talented, but one you’re just certain is a real prospect and the other you’re not sure. With the one guy, you can practically chart the path forward. Not like he’s a sure thing, but just in the sense that it’s easy to see how things could go. The other guy, you just need to see more. You may not even be sure what exactly, but something’s unclear or just missing.
The 2021 Bradenton Marauders were a good example of that first type. Focusing just on the pitching staff, they stormed to the league title because they had a few guys who, by that point in the season, were just too much for Single-A hitters to handle. That included three starters — Luis Ortiz, Adrian Florencio and Jared Jones — and a reliever the team added in the late season, after the draft — Tyler Samaniego. Unfortunately, the TINSTAAP gods put the evil eye on Florencio when he got to Greensboro this year, but maybe he’ll turn things around somehow. The others, so far, are proceeding about like you’d have hoped and imagined.
Ortiz made it all the way to the bigs this year. I’m sure everybody here is familiar with his power arsenal, so there’s no need to recount all that. It’s been interesting to see how the Pirates have handled him, though, since he got to Altoona. The Pirates seem to put a few starting prospects in a separate category, as guys who have a good chance of throwing 6-7 or more innings in each start, as opposed to twice-through-the-lineup-and-out guys. I noticed Ortiz had some starts when he ran into trouble in the fourth or fifth, and I figured he’d be done before the next inning. Instead, he’d be back out there. They also did this with Jones (Ortiz and Jones were 1-2 in the system in IP) and Quinn Priester, and at the major league level with Mitch Keller. Just guesswork on my part, but I wonder whether the Pirates want certain starters to build an ability to pitch through adversity.
Anyway, Jones is similar to Ortiz, except he has further to go with his command. The stuff is first tier, as he showed again this year with a 10.4 K/9. The path forward is obvious, just a question whether Jones can locate his pitches well enough.
Samaniego isn’t complicated at all. He’s a big lefty who gets into the mid-90s and has a tough slider. The only mystery with him is how he was still around in round 15 back in 2021. Maybe he’ll make it and maybe he won’t, but there’s little to do except wait until the trial arrives.
The 2022 Marauders had quite a few interesting pitchers, but few if any come without questions. I’m going to focus on the guys who were with the team in the early season, and leave Anthony Solometo and Bubba Chandler out of it. They’re on a different level from most prospects.
All of the pitchers in the season-opening rotation — Po-Yu Chen, Carlos Jimenez, Valentin Linarez, Luis Peralta, Joelvis Del Rosario and Justin Meis — are promising to some degree. Jimenez has been discussed a lot, so I’ll be brief with him: Great stuff, still inexperienced, command needs to move forward and maybe stamina, too. To an extent, he’s similar to Jones, and he has the highest ceiling from the 2022 Marauders’ staff, apart from Solometo and Chandler.
Chen seems like he should be better than his 4.58 ERA. He throws five pitches, all of which could be at least average, and he has good command for the level. Some days, though, he just got hit around a lot. Other days he just carved the hitters up. I don’t know whether his command needs to be a little better or whether his stuff needs to tick up a bit, so more data is needed here.
Del Rosario probably has the lowest ceiling of this group. He was consistently solid and threw strikes, but he was generally a little on the hittable side. His stuff probably needs to improve a bit.
Meis and Linarez both had some extreme ups and downs. Meis moved up to Greensboro after seven starts (ten games). He could dominate, like his last start of the season, when he threw seven no-hit innings with seven Ks. And he had days when he literally couldn’t get anybody out, like six runs in his first start of the season, or eight runs with two outs recorded total in his first two Greensboro starts. I have no guess why the extremes, so . . . more data needed. Linarez was just as extreme, but at least it came in long stretches. He had a 12.27 ERA over the season’s first month and 2.08 over the last three. He’s a big guy with only average-ish velocity and a tendency to uncoil slowly as he goes through his motion, so he doesn’t seem to get everything into the pitch. Maybe the Pirates could refine his motion to be a little more direct to the plate.
Peralta is the craziest of all. He’s sort-of a smallish, finesse lefty, but I’ve seen him crank it up to 94-95 in tight spots, and he can get swings and misses on high fastballs. He can be incredibly hard to hit, hence the 14.5 K/9. But, oh, those bases on balls. And also fat pitches that get crushed when he just has to throw a strike. He also exited some games due to single-inning pitch limits after one unending at-bat after another. The Pirates haven’t shown any sign that they think the bullpen is the answer.
So it’s not as clear where any of these pitchers are headed, not as much as it was with some of the 2021 Marauders, but there’s a lot to follow. The 2022 Marauders also had a bunch of lottery ticket relievers, as well as one guy — Cristian Charle — who’s legitimately a relief prospect. That’s for another time.
Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.